Monday, September 23, 2013

40K: A look at the new Space Marine codex

So, just over two weeks ago, the long-awaited 6th edition update for Codex: Space Marines arrived. For the first time since 2nd edition, the Space Marines weren't the first army to get a codex with a new edition. That dubious honor went to the Chaos Space Marines (and most folks I talk to these days feel like they'd have rather waited in the hopes of codex creep making their army somewhat stronger). Anyway, just over a year after the release of 6th edition, we got a new codex. I've managed to get two games in thus far, so I'll talk a bit about my experiences with it, as well as give a general run-down of the book for those that haven't had a chance to get it yet (or don't plan to), my impressions/opinions on the new stuff, and what I think should have been different.

First up, the book itself! I decided to spring for one of the limited edition ones. Which Chapter? Iron  Hands, of course!

Was it worth the extra cash? I haven't decided yet. You get the custom art (which honestly I think is kinda meh. All of them were), the built-in bookmark (which is certainly handy), a mostly-transparent plastic dust-jacket (the title is actually part of the jacket), and shiny edging on the pages. And it's a limited edition, of course, so it's numbered.

Kinda surprised the number wound up being that high, given I ordered it within a few hours of it becoming available, but it didn't sell out until after the actual release (or maybe they weren't shipped in order or something).

Anyway, it's certainly a fancy book, and I'm sure I'll appreciate its rarity more over the coming years. It'll likely go well with presenting my Iron Hands at tournaments and such, too. Though my Lords of Oblivion still have the coolest army list book ever (the custom-made one that was done last year).

Inside, they continue the new pattern of full-color everything.

It's definitely annoying the prices of the codices almost doubled with 6th, but the extra material and higher quality certainly seems to justify it. They're probably still too expensive ($50 for a standard 144-page hardbound codex).


So, you've got your usual fluff sections at the start, with the obligatory "Horus Heresy in five minutes" primer and a good bit of rehashed material from past editions. Before I get into that, I just want to mention the also-obligatory two-page artwork spread on pages 4-5. The scene depicts the Ultramarines (Led by Marneus Calgar) and the Imperial Fists (led by Captain Lysander) beating up some Iron Warriors. What stands out about this piece to me is the Imperial Fists sergeant punching an Iron Warrior in the face with his power fist. There's blood spraying everywhere.

Actual blood in a piece of 40K art. I don't think I've seen that since 3rd edition (specifically a piece of Blood Angels art). For being such an incredibly grimdark universe full of eternal war and carnage, there is a shocking lack of blood in the artwork. Sure, there's corpses everywhere, mountains of skulls, people getting stabbed, shot, impaled, whatever else, but actual blood? Nah, we gotta keep this kid-friendly! So, I have to say, kudos to GW for having the guts to put a little of the red stuff back in.

Anyway, back to the fluff. They include all the special organs Space Marines receive, but once again don't bother to list the order they receive them. We also, much to my surprise, see a Space Marine without armor or clothing, only the second time this has ever happened in the entire franchise (the other time being in the really old Bloodquest graphic novels from the '90s). So, again, I'm appreciative of GW for trying to fill in things they've basically never touched on before (not that I necessarily want to see a naked Space Marine, of course, but it makes it all feel a bit more real to get a better understanding of how it all works).

Thankfully, as well, the emphasis on the Ultramarines is drastically scaled back as well, and the seven First Founding Chapters covered by this codex are all given fairly equal treatment (Well, the Ultramarines still get the most attention, but the other six all get at least several pages, which is a HUGE step up from just the short blurbs they got before). Of course, the UMs are used as the examples for explaining Chapter and Company organization, but even in the section explaining codex markings for their armor, other Chapters are used as examples as well throughout the book (bringing in a little bit of the old Insignium Astartes book).

We get one of the timeline sections highlighting major battles/actions, but honestly, I feel like they didn't even try with this section. The one I wrote for my Lords of Oblivion is vastly more interesting. Though kudos to GW for mentioning some of the Forge World lore (such as the Siege of Vraks).

The rest of the fluff is taken up with sections focusing on each of the First Founding Chapters, and giving some details on their Successors. Interestingly, the Iron Hands get a new Successor in the form of the Iron Lords. I certainly won't complain about new Successors, especially as this finally confirms the Iron Hands spawned Successors outside of the Second Founding (i.e. gives more room for my Lords of Oblivion to be legit).

However, there were a few disappointments in this section. The Black Templars in particular got some disturbing and annoying retcons. In past editions, they were well-known for their zealotry and abhorrence of anything to do with psykers (an obvious source of dramatic tension were my Lords of Oblivion ever to have to work alongside them). However, now, apparently they don't really mind psykers at all, and they just LOVE their astropaths and navigators, it's just for reasons unknown they have no Librarians any more (so you can't take any in a BT detachment). Apparently Helbrecht has also been High Marshall for only a few years, fighting the "unnatural inhabitants" of the Ghoul Stars and then going straight to Armageddon.

Also, the Iron Hands got some retconning, in the form of basically receiving a Chapter Master now. Whereas before it was repeatedly established the Clan-Council was the ruling body of the Chapter, and made up of its ten Clan-Commanders, that's been done away with. Now there's the Iron Council, whose members are made of Iron Fathers, who are also no longer the Chaplain/Techmarine hybrids they used to be, but any Captain, Chaplain, Librarian, or Techmarine who gets elected to have a seat on the Council. WTF, GW. Yeah, I'm pretty irritated at this. Apparently Clan-Commanders are now called Iron Captains. Jeez, GW, make up your frigging mind. I'm pretty sure I'm just going to willfully ignore most of these changes and stick with what's in the Chris Wraight material.


Ok, enough of the fluff. On to the gallery! Again, this section is even bigger than the last edition, but I almost wish it wasn't. I... I don't think I've ever been so disappointed. Normally, ever since about the Grey Knights codex, the 'eavy Metal team has engaged in an ongoing campaign of self-one-upmanship. Each successive codex has increasingly complex and impressive details, from freehands to blending techniques to just sheer complexity of their paintjobs. Here, most of the new models are about what you'd expect from the team circa 1993, not 2013. Basic highlighting, minimal freehand work, and none of the personality the last five or six books had. Shoot, you can even see sections where they flat-out forgot to do highlighting!

Why is it so disappointing? Was it the sheer volume of new models they had to paint? General apathy towards Space Marines? Some combination of the two? I don't know. I just know for certain that my Iron Hands are definitely superior to the ones in this book, both in appearance and theme (the blue eyes and cold colors just work SO much better, and I actually used bionics).

And, of course, the blue of the Ultramarines continued its trajectory of becoming a couple shades darker, which seems to happen each edition. At this rate they'll be blue-tinted black by 10th edition.

But hey, we still get a bunch of new models! New plastic Sternguard and Vanguard Veterans, new plastic HQs, new vehicles and...Centurions. I know, I know, Space Marine inside a Space Marine, pretty much ripped off of the Marauder or Firebat suits from Starcraft 2 (the irony of which I find pretty hilarious). But hey, at least their rules are solid, right? I admit, I picked up a box, though I'm still trying to decide on their configuration. Probably Devastator with the grav-cannons and missiles, they seem pretty well suited to just annihilating whole squads of heavy infantry (and maybe doing decent damage to vehicles too).

Not finished, of course. Still have all the highlighting to do, plus some detail-work. I kinda feel like the ostentatious details built into the models don't really work well for my army, but not much choice, I suppose. And there's the added frustration of these guys coming on 50mm bases, which nobody makes in terms of the custom bases. Not in the GW style, anyway. So it's gonna be more than a little interesting getting these guys onto proper ice bases to match the rest of my army. I'm also planning on trying to magnetize the guns, so I can swap out as needed between grav-cannons, lascannons, or the siege drills. Thankfully, I can get away without having to mark them out as Assault or Devastator, because of how the Iron Hands do things.

Overall, the new models are a mixed back. The new Veterans are pretty nice, though at this point I have little need for them. A re-tooled Tactical Squad is nice, and there's a few new options for bitz in there. The new plastic HQs suck. $30 for a single static-pose model, bah. The old 4th edition Captain kit is vastly superior (and thankfully still available). The new tanks look pretty nice (though why they didn't just re-tool the Whirlwind is beyond me), but feel unnecessary. There's also lots of Roman-style helmet crests you can put on your sergeants, but I suspect most folks won't bother with those unless they're actually doing Ultramarines.

The rules

Now for the critical part! The previous codex was, of course, starting to show its age, especially compared to the other Marine books. It seemed like the Blood Angels were faster, the Space Wolves were tougher, and the Grey Knights were shinier. Has that changed? Yes and no. Ultimately, the book is about 80% the same, especially in terms of what units can do or take. The costs of many units have been adjusted, though. Additionally, individual unit options (i.e. weapon upgrades) have been removed in favor of a centralized armory, harkening back to 3rd edition (which is both handy for keeping upgrade costs consistent, but also annoying because it's not right there in the unit entry).

Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes is the Chapter Tactics system. The old Combat Tactics (and special characters replacing it) is gone. Instead, you pick which Chapter your primary detachment is from, and gain certain special rules based on that. If you're running a Successor, then pick whichever Chapter you're descended from. You can even have an allied detachment from the same codex as long as it's got different Chapter Tactics (such as a primary Ultramarines detachment with allied White Scars, for example). The rules themselves aren't necessarily uber-powerful, but they're definitely distinctive and pretty much all of them are useful. It's not quite as flexible or diverse as the old Chapter Traits system from 4th edition, but it's a good compromise, and does a lot to make armies from the same codex feel distinct (an Iron Hands army is going to play different from an Imperial Fists army, even if you take the same units). So, big thumbs up from me on this one!

Wargear-wise, there's an interesting new addition to the armory: grav weapons. Basically graviton guns, grav-weapons don't actually have a strength value, but instead wound on whatever the armor save of the target is. So an Ork Boy is only wounded on a 6, but a Terminator is wounded on a 2+. And they're all AP 2 salvo weapons, meaning grav-weapons are perfect for destroying heavy infantry or monstrous creatures. Against vehicles, on a 6 they inflict an automatic immobilized result, making them essentially gauss weapons (but technically deadlier, balanced by the fact that Space Marines will get very few grav shots compared to Necrons getting gauss shots). So, other Marine armies, Necrons, Chaos Marines, certain Tyranid lists, and Tau are all going to feel some pain from these. Dark Eldar and Daemons can probably just laugh and ignore them.

Now then. How do the units stack up? It's a bit more mixed. Let's run down the list.

Special characters: Everyone from the last codex is back, there's nothing new here. Which is annoying, because ONCE AGAIN everyone but the Iron Hands gets a special character, nevermind we've got plenty of room for interesting characters. A Chaplain/Techmarine hybrid character would have been perfect! Or even a special Dreadnought! In any case, they're all roughly the same, but with adjusted costs. Tigurius got a bit of a buff, though, and now everyone wants to take him. That's the thing, though. With Chapter Tactics, you can't mix and match special characters now; they have to be the same Chapter as your detachment. So, previously I was using Lysander to represent Clan-Commander Vorax, but now that's not possible if I want to use the Iron Hands Chapter Tactics and have him as my warlord. So my Clan-Commander becomes a generic Captain (with the same wargear, plus a Shield Eternal, he's still pretty beastly).

HQs: Some improvements here, at least. Librarians are finally reasonably priced, Chapter Masters now have four wounds (and way more options), and Honor Guard/Command Squads got cheaper. Overall, some decent improvements, though sadly a few options (like the auxiliary grenade launcher) got removed. But Chapter Masters on a bike can allow bike squads to be taken as troops now, which makes a lot more sense! Also Techmarines are now HQ choices that don't take up a slot.

Elite: Here's where the changes start get interesting. Vanguard Veterans have been moved here, and made significantly cheaper. Are they finally worth it? I hear a lot of people arguing either way. Me, I don't know. I haven't used them, but they might be worth it with a couple upgrades, that extra base attack and LD 9 could come in handy compared to an Assault Squad. And, of course, there's the Centurions. They're divided into Assault and Devastator versions, and the Assault Centurions go here. These guys are almost like Thunderwolves; S5 and T5 with two wounds. Not as fast, of course. But their siege drills make them S9 in close-combat, they get hurricane bolters built in, and can also take attached flamers or meltaguns to do further damage after they hop out of a Land Raider. So, these guys can do some damage, they just don't have any invulnerable saves.

Troops: Nothing overly special here, which really disappoints me. Tactical Squads can now take a heavy weapon at 5-men, so you could spam 5-man heavy weapon combat teams if you wanted. The cost of Tactical Squads went down slightly, but then you realize part of it is because the sergeant is no longer automatically a veteran, and you have to pay to get that back, negating most of the discount you would otherwise have. And really, this is the core of the changes (and problems) with the codex. The base costs of most units got cheaper, but upgrades got more expensive, and prohibitively so. For example, Clave Solkaar, one of my Tactical Squads, has ten Marines, a meltagun and missile launcher, a veteran sergeant with a power fist, and a Razorback (lots of upgrades, sure, but it gives them that much-needed versatility and ability to actually kill things), which cost me 240 points in the old codex. In the new one, that exact same loadout runs 255 points. Now I have to start scaling back upgrades and essentially nerfing myself to still fit units in. Add to this that Tactical Squads, for their cost, STILL aren't as versatile or effective as they need to be, plus Scout Squads having their costs cut even more dramatically, and I doubt you'll see very many Tactical Squads, who are supposed to be bearing the brunt of the fighting in the lore, on the tabletop. How could they have fixed this? I think it's two-fold. Their points should have been dropped even further. Right now they're essentially 14 points/model. This should have been 13 points, or even 12. It doesn't seem like a huge drop, but that 10-20 points drop would take enough of an edge off the costs that they could be fielded in reasonable numbers. Additionally, they need more versatility. Being allowed to take a second special weapon instead of a heavy weapon, or vice versa, would add on to that a lot. There's also a piece of wargear that HQs can take, an auspex (something Tactical Squads are frequently depicted as using, and is even on the sprue!), which I think Tactical Squads should have had access to. A simple 5-point upgrade, but it gives them something they can do to help support the army as a whole. Maybe even access to some older items from past editions, like Purity Seals or Crusader Seals adding an inch to any run/charge moves they make. Just little things that would make them seem less bland and more useful. Compared to Grey Hunters, they're still pretty lame, unfortunately.

Fast Attack: Not much has changed here, other than the Stormtalon now being built-in (which is good, I never bothered buying that stupid supplement). Bike Squads have gotten significantly cheaper (about 10-15%, which translates to around 30-40 points if fully tooled out), which I love. Actually, all-biker armies like mine have gotten a big shot in the arm. Everything except my speeders has gotten 10-30% cheaper, so I can take my 2000-point list at 1850 now, and the White Scars Chapter Tactics are amazing (+1 to Jink saves and automatically passing Dangerous Terrain checks, which were the bane of my existence in 5th). So I'm excited to field the Lords of Oblivion 8th Company again!

Heavy Support: Again, largely the same. Pretty much the only thing that changed are some of the tanks getting slightly more expensive (wrong direction to adjust the costs, GW!), and the addition of the Stormraven, along with the Hunter/Stalker tanks, giving the army some needed anti-air. Between the two, though, I don't know why anyone would ever take the Stalker. The Hunter, while it's only one shot compared to three, has Armorbane and, even if you miss, the missile comes back in subsequent turns to strike down whatever you shot it at! As I mentioned above, I don't know why they couldn't just add anti-air missiles as an option to the Whirlwind, but, yeah, the new kit is pretty spiffy, and I could see these being used at least for up-armor upgrades on folks Rhinos or Predators. And there's the Devastator Centurions. By default they have twin-linked heavy bolters and hurricane bolters, but they can be upgraded to lascannons, grav-cannons, and twin-linked missile launchers. I've been testing them with the grav-cannons and missiles. At five shots a piece with the grav-cannons, re-rolling wounds/penetration, these three guys can put out some serious hurt. They're expensive (280 points for that configuration), but so far they seem to be worth it.

Overall: Ultimately, this comes to be a bit of a mixed bag. Whereas the Space Wolves, Grey Knights, and Blood Angels books were obvious huge leaps forward for their respective armies, this is more just a tweaking of what came before. There's certainly more options and personality to the book, but in terms of competitiveness, the codex remains largely the same. Which isn't to say it's necessarily a bad thing. The power level of this book is virtually identical to the already-released Dark Angels book, which I actually view as a good thing. While there's still disparities in power levels between certain books, these disparities are quickly being leveled out with each codex, and I think if GW can finish getting all the armies updated to 6th edition, the game will be the most balanced it's ever been. Except for Chaos Marines. You guys are just hosed.

That said, I think this book could have still been better in a few ways. Upgrades are sometimes so prohibitively expensive that I think armies will often be far more generic than they could otherwise be, in terms of wargear taken. Ultimately, I think competitively this book will do fine, I've seen a decent number of solid-looking lists come out. My Iron Hands have managed to win both their games so far (already matching their total win count for all the battles I fought with the last codex), so I'll take that as a good sign! We shall continue to endure!

I hope you found this all informative!

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